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Lazy Horns and Keeping Time

Q: I’ve started rehearsing with a big band and while I’m finding it a lot of fun and a good challenge, I’ve been having a hard time keeping the time. The horns seem to play way behind the beat much of the time and it just feels uncomfortable no matter what I do. If I try and lay back for them, I get out of sync with the drummer. But if I stay with the drummer, it feels like the train is about to derail. Any suggestions?

A: You are not alone!

I’ve asked many horn players about this phenomenon throughout the years. It seems to be a combination of things happening. First, there’s the slight delay between the time they blow the horn and the time it produces sound.

But the bigger issue is the combination of a slightly lazy swing feel many prefer, plus the snowball effect of phrasing as a group, lazily.

It can really drive a bass player nuts!

There really is nothing quite like trying to keep time while half a dozen (or more) of the band is playing hits and falling further and further behind the beat.

Unfortunately, there is not much to be done about it. Aside from getting a tighter horn section or asking the section to try and play more on the beat during rhythmic figures, your only course of action is to lock your lasers (ears) on the drummer and fight through the tough sections of the tune.

Great big bands know how to lock the time up tight, and a good section leader won’t let the section get away with falling behind the beat so much.

You might make mention of it to the band leader and/or conductor. Chances are, they know it is happening (they’d better!) and maybe have given up a bit or have just let it slide and just need a simple and polite reminder to get them back in the driver’s seat and try and pull them in.

Bottom line, dig in with the drummer and make the tune swing so hard that they’d be fools not to play with the rhythm section.

A polite and well placed mention of it to the right person might be just the ticket but, beyond that… any suggestions guys? Post suggestions in the comments.

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